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Big support for climate solutions, but maybe not this bill

robin lewis.jpg
Joel McCord/WYPR
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Robin Lewis, of Interfaith Power and Light, speaks to a rally supporting a climate solutions bill

There appeared to be enthusiastic support for reducing Maryland’s carbon footprint at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. But some weren’t so sure the Climate Solutions bill before them was the way to do it.

Michael Powell, a lawyer for a building trades group, told the Senate’s environment committee everyone supports climate change legislation. But some of the provisions of the bill, for example retrofitting some buildings to be all electric, were just unworkable.

“It doesn't take an architect to think that if you have a 15 or 20 story building, and it's heated by a boiler in the basement and radiators and hot water, that converting all of that to electricity for heating is going to be difficult,” he said.

Charles Washington, a lobbyist for BGE, said his company supports decarbonization and has announced its own plans to cut its emissions by 50% by 2030. They’re committed to helping their customers reduce emissions as well, he added.

But no other state in the country has adopted a building code that requires such a quick transition from natural gas to electricity, he said..

“The states and smaller jurisdictions that are considering decarbonization policies better account for the challenges, the feasibility and the range of options and economic impacts inherent in such a transformational shift,” he said. “This bill goes too far, too fast.”

The far-reaching bill sets a long-term goal of making Maryland carbon neutral by 2045 and an interim goal of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030. It requires new buildings to be all-electric and the state to start converting to an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2024.

Mark Case, a BGE vice president, agreed the company supports reducing carbon emissions, but argued the costs to the company’s customers would be severe.

“Modeling of the BGE territory shows that residential gas customers can expect to pay on average $10,000 more per household for equipment retrofits and increased heating bills, ” he argued. “In aggregate, the projected price tag for our residential and commercial customers is about $2.8 billion.”

Sen. Paul Pinsky, the Prince George’s Democrat who is lead sponsor of the bill, questioned that.

He said a California consulting firm with no stake in the energy industry that Maryland hired said the costs would be much lower.

“But what a shock,” he said incredulously. “The model that BGE has created has the numbers thousands and thousands of dollars. So I'm trying to understand why we should trust you, your modeling or your position, when you have a financial interest in keeping the status quo.”

Mike Tidwell, of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, predicted at a rally on Lawyer’s Mall before the hearing started that the opponents would make those claims.

“They’ll say they can’t do it. It’s too expensive,” he said.

But the reality is we the advocates for climate legislation have been right for 20 years,” he said. “The price of wind and solar goes down, the jobs go up, the economy gets better. So today when you hear the gas industry and others saying we can't do it, the reality is we can do it.”

Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation voters, said she understands there are costs to implementing the bill, but there are costs to inaction as well.

“There's impacts to the economy, because businesses have to close down when storms occur,” she said, pointing to flooding that inundates businesses at City Dock in Annapolis. “There's damage to property, there's impact to homeowners because of lost job time, and it goes on and on.”

Robin Lewis of Interfaith Power and Light, the bill is important to make sure the health of people in underserved communities is protected.

“It’s unfair to impose these toxins on those communities, especially communities where there's infrastructure that is being built in their community without regard to the health and safety of those people that live there.” she said.

Pinsky said he’s open to some amendments to his bill, calling it a work in progress. Meanwhile, there are three climate bills in the House of Delegates due for hearings in the next two weeks.